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Departments : The Winning Edge

Beware the Restrained Subject

Handcuffed suspects can still pose a very real threat to police officers.

September 30, 2010  |  by Tom Wetzel


Over the years, I've heard multiple accounts of handcuffed subjects who later escaped or attempted to escape. One particular incident involved a young kid who fled on foot. His ability to outrun two officers with his hands behind his back demonstrated just how focused a person can be if he wants to escape.

Another time, a handcuffed man was able to get the rear cruiser door open, jump out, and start running. The transporting officers recaptured him, but his manipulations while handcuffed showed what a little flexibility and ingenuity can accomplish. The only injuries that the officers sustained in both incidents were embarrassment and some hurt feelings. That unfortunately is not always the case in escape situations.

Too many officers have been seriously hurt or killed by "restrained" subjects who managed to escape their cuffs. It is a reason we are trained to look for hidden handcuff keys during searches. But dangers to police officers are not limited to those who escape their restraints and then attack officers. The risks from cuffed bad guys can be very serious, as well. By being aware and having a strategy if assaulted by a cuffed subject, you can better defend yourself, as well as re-restrain the "restrained" subject.

What Can a Restrained Suspect Do?

As cuffing suspects with their hands behind their backs is pretty standard practice, be prepared for what happens when the suspect uses flexibility to bring the cuffs to the front. It is here where he or she can cause serious havoc. A violent assault even while cuffed can allow a suspect an opportunity to harm or kill you, obtain your handcuff keys or gun, or simply escape. Here are some things to be ready for.

If out in the open, a cuffed suspect can deliver a strong and fast double fist punch to your face. The handcuffs, whether hinged or not, can even help keep the bad guy's fists aligned when delivering the strike. While using the same type of delivery, a suspect can poke his fingers into your eyes. He can also grab along the outside of your face and gouge your eyes with his thumbs. It is important to be aware, too, that just as you can block against his strikes, the cuffed bad guy can also present blocks against your counter strikes.

Assaults are not just limited to the hands. A suspect's legs are generally unrestrained during most arrest situations and could allow him to direct a targeted kick or knee strike. If an attack is not the point, escaping may be the objective. Depending on the type of back seat protections that are in place, a suspect can manipulate a door to allow for an escape. Some are probably capable with the cuffs behind their back, as well.

What Can You Do?

One of the most serious threats that you may face is when a handcuffed subject tries to draw your duty handgun and use it against you. Depending on his speed and ability, a cuffed subject can quickly place you in a compromised position. Also, whether inside a cruiser or outside of it, a "restrained" subject can be lethal if able to use the handcuffs in a choking manner. So, what can you do?

Being aware of how dangerous a suspect can be while still handcuffed is the first step. Although the bad guy may have the initial element of surprise, through training you can present an effective defense and counter response to protect yourself. Looking and listening is important as well.

For example, while transporting a prisoner, it is important to listen for his physical movements. When driving, your eyes are generally looking forward, not toward the back seat. This can provide an opportunity for the bad guy to begin manipulating his cuffs to the front or to use a handcuff key to remove them without your knowledge.

Listen for unusual or excessive movement and periodically make visual checks of the suspect. Just letting him know you're paying attention to him may deter his efforts. If there is a second officer in the car, she should regularly make observations of the bad guy. Also, during transports be cautious about listening to the radio or having involved conversations, both of which divide your attention.

Whenever possible, take advantage of any alternative restraints that are available to you, including leg chains, the RIPP hobble, and the RIPP Arm and Ankle Restrainer. Although it may take a little more time to apply these to the subject, the effort is worth it as they add one more hindrance to stop an assault or escape.

Tags: defensive tactics, Gaining Compliance, officer safety, Weapon Retention, Assaults on Officers


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Paul Kurgan @ 5/3/2012 3:13 PM

Hello good info, Ia

m currently looking for documention on how many police officers have been assualted or killed in the line of duty. Can you help with finding this information. I am a 22year vet with the Washington, DC Police Department, could use some help in finding great statistics. Thanks Ofc. Paul Kurgan, MPD DC

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